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Protein shakes: should you drink them before or after a workout
Protein shakes: should you drink them before or after a workout?

Protein shakes: should you drink them before or after a workout?

  • Reading time: 9 min.

A protein shake is a useful addition to a healthy diet. Just give it a shake and you'll get a good dose of protein, which your body needs to help it maintain and build muscle mass. But when is it best time to a drink a protein shake? Should you drink your protein shake before or after a workout, or does this even matter? In this XXL Nutrition blog, we will tell you more about the timing of your protein intake so you know exactly when to grab that delicious protein shake!

Is the timing of proteins important?

In the gym, you may often hear that you should drink a protein shake immediately after your workout because it will help you build muscle mass faster. This claim is based on the so-called “Anabolic Window”. According to this “anabolic window of opportunity”, your body is in its most anabolic state for up to an hour after your workout and so you should immediately make sure your body is getting protein in order to stimulate muscle recovery.

This idea, however, is a classic case of “bro science”. The idea of the Anabolic Window has taken on a life of its own, causing many athletes to rush to swig down a Whey Protein shake right after their workout. In reality, however, you do not need to drink a protein shake immediately after your workout.

In fact, muscle protein synthesis remains elevated for up to 48 hours after a workout, peaking at around 2.5 to 3 hours after your workout. This means that you can feed your body (and muscles) with protein from food or supplements at any time during this whole period, much longer than the 30 to 60 minutes before your “Anabolic Window” supposedly "closes".

Investigating the Anabolic Window

So how did this "myth" about drinking a protein shake so soon after a workout come about? In the past, a number of poorly designed studies were carried out which showed that athletes who drank a protein shake after working out had greater muscle growth. However, this had nothing to do with the timing of the protein shake, but more to do with the athletes' total protein intake. The group of athletes who did not have a shake received less protein, which then resulted in them making fewer “gains”.

Thankfully, more qualitative research has been done in recent years, with several studies showing that the timing of when you intake protein is less important than previously thought. For example, this study[1] looked at the difference in strength and body composition between two groups. Group 1 received a protein shake just before and immediately after training, while Group 2 received a shake in the morning and evening. What was the result? There was no significant difference found between the two groups, with both making the same progress in terms of muscle mass and strength.

This 16-week study[2] of male strength athletes also found no difference in strength and body composition. In this study, one group of athletes were given a high-protein meal immediately after working out, while the other group was not given this meal until 2 hours after the end of their workout.

So while protein is important for building muscle mass, the timing of when you intake it appears to be less important. Drinking a protein shake before or after exercise provides no more additional gains than taking it at any other time of day.

When should you drink a protein shake?

If the timing of when you should intake protein doesn't really matter, when should you take your protein shake? Do it when it's most practical for you! Whether it's right after your workout, as part of your breakfast or just as a protein-packed afternoon snack, the most important thing is meeting your total protein needs every day.

How much protein per day was this again? As a strength athlete, you should follow a guideline of 1.6 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Do you weigh 85 kilograms and want to build muscle mass? Then you will need about 136 to 170 grams of protein every day. Try to distribute protein across all meals rather than having all your protein in just two main meals. This will allow your body to digest the proteins better. so do not drink a protein shake in combination with a high-protein meal, as the amount of protein at this meal will be too much for your body.

Personally, I prefer to take my protein shake in the morning after getting up or after finishing my strength training. I don't like eating a big, heavy breakfast, so I prefer combining a protein shake with porridge to provide my body with high-quality protein and complex carbohydrates. For this I choose Whey Delicious and Perfect Oats. If I have to choose between taking my protein shake before or after exercise, I prefer taking it after my workout. However, the time of day I do this doesn't really matter.

Nutrition around your strength training

As we've seen, drinking your protein shake before or after working will make little difference to your gains. But what about the rest of your diet? Should you optimise your nutrition based on your strength training? To a certain extent, yes!

Your primary focus should still be on your total calorie intake, the amount of protein you need every day and how it is balanced with other macronutrients. Only when you have the basics sorted should you start thinking of your nutrition before and after a workout.

Before a workout, your body needs a carbohydrate-rich meal. Carbohydrates are the easiest source of energy for your body and during a heavy strength training session you will need a lot of energy to be able to perform well. Eat a meal with complex carbohydrates and some protein about 1.5-2 hours before a workout.

Eating a large meal (with lots of protein) just before your workout is not recommended; your body will still be digesting this food during your workout, meaning there is less energy available for your muscles to perform properly. Similarly, it may not be the best idea to drink a big protein shake shortly before your workout, especially as one of the disadvantages of whey protein is that its proteins are digested more slowly by your body.

You should then have a high-protein meal after your workout. Your post-workout nutrition has a number of purposes; you want to get your body out of its catabolic and stressful workout state so it can begin recovery and rebuilding, so you will want to stop or prevent the breakdown of reserves (and therefore muscle mass). However, eating a post-workout meal because of the “Anabolic Window” is less important than many people think; for beginners, the effect of a training stimulus can last up to a few days after training and does not peak until a day after working out.

The more advanced you are, the closer these peaks are to your workout; therefore, the more advanced you are, the more important it becomes to time your nutrition. This is why your post-workout meal should consist of protein. In this case a nice protein shake after a workout can definitely be recommended, although it can also just be a meal consisting of rice, vegetables and fish or meat.

Protein shake before or after a workout?

In this article you've whether you should drink a protein shake before or after exercise. In short, the timing of your protein shake makes little difference, as what's more important is your total protein intake throughout the day. Whereas it was once thought that the Anabolic Window was key to making gains, experts today agree that you don't need to rush to chug your protein shake straight after a workout.

Do you still like drinking a protein shake after exercise? Or are you currently following a high-protein diet and looking for a way to get lots of protein and few carbs? Then choose one of our protein shakes to give your body a good dose of essential amino acids.




Marvin Grouw
This blog is written by:
Marvin Grouw
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